In Conversation, The Australian Children’s Laureates

Last night I had the pleasure in joining Australian Children’s Laureates Jackie French (current) and Alison Lester (2012-2013) in the beautiful Harper Collins offices in Sydney, as they discussed what it means to be the Australian Children’s Laureate.

To Alison, The Laureate is about reaching out to communities that have been left behind. She believes children are always bursting with potential and reading can be the thing that enables them to reach that potential. Alison said that being the Laureate was a privilege and a joy.
Children's Laureate Shelly with Bruce Whatley print
In the Laureate role Jackie has been reaching out to new audiences over the phone, using a speakerphone, as well as using video and radio. She has spoken to over 10,000 children in the last month alone.

Jackie believes Australian literature punches above it weight in quality and innovation. She spoke of ‘Magic books’ as books that turn children into readers. Jackie believes there is a ‘magic book’ out there for every child. It is about teaching children to become great book hunters.  She also spoke of the importance of parents continuing to read to children after the age of six. Once children can read for themselves it is easy to leave it to them. But she believes there is a huge amount of value in continuing to read together beyond six.

Of being the Laureate Jackie says, “It is an extraordinary experience and she is treasuring every single second.”

It was great to see such passion and commitment from both Jackie and Alison. It was also wonderful to walk away with a signed Bruce Whatley print at then end of the silent auction 🙂

Pitch Perfect

It’s been a busy couple of weeks – months actually.

Last weekend I attended a course on pitch writing with Claire Craig from Pan McMillan.
The take away message: The simpler the better. Using the best words in the best order. Deconstruct, delayer and get to the core of the story, then write a pitch that is concise, dense with meaning and elicits an emotional response.
It was a very timely course as I’ve submitted two pitches this week in time for the SCBWI Conference as well as sending a couple of manuscripts out into the word. I’ve included the ‘quick pitch’ of my YA novel Surviving Sam at the bottom of this post.

I also attended the CBCA shortlist presentation at Gordon library. It was fascinating to hear how the shortlist was chosen. One of the things I found most interesting was that most of the YA shortlist was made up of debut authors, whilst all of the Picture book authors were very well established, prolific writers. I have a pile of shortlisted YA books by the couch that I am looking forward to delving into over the next week or so.
As an aside, what a wonderful job they have done renovating Gordon Library, it really does feel like a wonderful creative space, and is clearly very busy, which is fantastic!

My wonderful critique group, Picture This, has been busy with successes too, with Penny Morrison launching the latest two books in her HEY! series. The event was in Willoughby and had a fantastic turnout. Here’s a picture of my little man Harrison, AKA The Book Thief, taking off with one of the books which he loved so much whilst Penny was reading to the group. You can’t get a much bigger compliment than children trying to steal your books 🙂 I’ve also had to read it twice every night since!

Penny's launch

Also from Picture This, Ramona Davey has been shortlisted for her picture book in the CYA competition, with one of my favourite stories :). Kylie Fornasier has presented at Penguin Live in the lead up to the launch of her YA Novel Masquerade. And me and the girls have had a working bee to fill all of the 150 delegate bags for the upcoming SCBWI conference in July, which was a great fun filled afternoon – if a little back breaking!SCBWI working bee

My writing focus has been on my YA novel Surviving Sam, which feels like it is really taking shape now. I have a couple of editor consultations lined up at the SCBWI conference, and hope to be ready to start submitting it off the back of that feedback towards the end of the year.

Too much writing. I’ll stop there! Have a wonderful weekend All!!
Surviving Sam Pitch below…

Surviving Sam is a contemporary romance YA novel, served with a side of psychological thriller. A story of young love that is interrupted by a sociopathic runaway teenager.

“I’m poisonous!” Said Sam. “Even the mozzies know better than to mess with me.” Katie laughed, but as she did she felt a chill penetrate every nerve in her body.

Katie and Eddie are falling in love and are oblivious to the danger facing them when they swear to Sam that they will safeguard the secret of her runaway.
As they spend lazy days hanging out by the river, cracks in Sam’s story come to the surface.
Are they strong enough to withstand the force of Sam’s malicious personality and her torrid retribution?

When I’m a famous author….. (I live in hope)

…. I want to be like Markus Zusak!

I don’t mean I want to be as successful as Markus – although obviously that would be nice! I mean I want to remain grounded, generous and honest.

I’ll elaborate…. Last night Catherine and I were lucky enough to attend the ‘In Conversation with Markus Zusak’ Evening at the Australian Society of Authors in Ultimo. Markus was amazing, so laid back and humble, he could have been speaking to any one of us on a one on one basis in his living room, such was his demeanour, he’s also pretty funny too. One of the things that I loved was that he didn’t build a mystique around his writing process, or make it sound like a higher art, he doesn’t consider himself super intelligent, or ridiculously well read, he is just very passionate and dedicated to what he does, clearly very talented and he has worked very hard. And he is still working very hard. It took him 7 years to get published, but he knew it was the one thing he really wanted to do and he stuck at it.

Catherine and I hung around to get our books signed at the end and Markus chatted to us for a good 15 minutes, he didn’t have to, we grilled him, it was all take an no give, but he was happy to give – I hope I can remember his generosity in years to come, when I’m pressed for time, have a book to finish and want to get home to the kids, but have two aspiring authors soaking up my every word. (Again, I live in hope 😉 ) I may sound like I’m gushing, but I suspect if you asked any of the attendees last night, they would all be gushing too! Thank you Markus! Now back to my novel!!


Year of the Horse

I have finally waved my little Princess off for her first week at big school, an emotional week for me. I’m trying to think of it as a start to a new era rather then the end of one, but we’ve had so much fun hanging out together for the last 4 and 3/4 years, and now I only have the weekends :(. It’s lovely to see her coming out of school beaming like a Cheshire cat and walking 10 feet tall, I know she’s ready and will have a fantastic time. It does also mean that I finally have some writing time again which is wonderful, although Big School days are very short, compared to day care days, so I’m feeling a little ripped off ;).

Now I’m back into it, I am forming a bit of a plan. I have signed up for another writing course, Writing for children with the wonderful Jacqueline Harvey which started this week and has certainly helped fire up my engines already ( I have more than one engine apparently??). I have already submitted several manuscripts, and I am meeting my chapter book critique group for the first time this year on Saturday.

It is all going to happen this year! I decided that at the end of last year, but now I am even more sure. The reason being… last night we went to a Chinese New Year celebration to welcome the Year of the Horse. I was born in the year of the snake, and the prediction for Year of the Horse, for a snake is as follows…

‘Snakes in the Design industry, strategy, arts or writing will have a creative and inspirational year. You will be well recognised for your talent. This will also be an auspicious year for examinations, auditions and interviews, and make the most of the opportunity to advance yourself.’

Year of the Horse

So there you have it!I’m convinced, now to convince the publishers!!!

Showing my age at the ARIA awards night

My husband Sean and I were lucky enough to get invited to this years ARIA awards night in Sydney. For those of you overseas the ARIA’s is the night of nights in the Australian Music Calendar, and always has a long list of celebrities strutting their stuff on the red carpet.

I must confess, I’m not a muso, I enjoy listening to the radio, mostly Smooth fm, which lets face it, isn’t a “cutting edge” station, and I watch the occasional  music video on Rage at the weekend. But it took a writing friend of mine to let me know that Lorde, and Flume were both going to be there, giving me enough time to google them and get a vague idea of who they were. This was fortunate, as whilst we ambled up the red carpet, Lorde stood there being jostled by the paps, trying to persuade her to smile, and definitely not succeeding.

After walking the carpet we were taken to a beautiful roof top terrace and left to enjoy a glass of bubbles whilst trying to work out, who, of those around us, were ‘someone’. We spotted Kochie from channel 7 and wandered over for a chat and a photo. We asked a lovely young guy to take the pic.

ARIA AwardsAria photo with Kochie

It was only when we were sat watching the awards being presented that we realised, that very lovely young guy who was so obliging and took such a great happy snap, was actually presenting an award himself. We then watched as young person after young person that we’d seen on the terrace – but not recognised, took to the stage, to sing or accept an award.

But we had our photo with Kochie, and the Wiggles and Justine from Play School! All the cool people really 😉

Writers Unleashed

On Saturday I attended the Writers Unleashed Festival in Sutherland Shire. It was a fantastic festival, providing the opportunity to hear from some very talented writers, including the hilarious James Roy, Suzanne Gervay, Emma Quay and Libby Gleeson.

We also heard from a panel of publishers on what’s hot and what’s not right now in the world of children’s literature. In Middle Grade fiction and in YA it is smart, stand alone fiction, for strong readers, with a unique voice, strong characters and a funny or clever edge that is exciting publishers right now. Particularly contemporary fiction with strong friendship themes, and of course a bit of romance never goes a miss. (Sounds just like my novel!! ;))

What made this festival really special, however, was that I was able to share it with many of my writers group, Picture This, pictured at the festival below. It is wonderful to be a part of such a talented and supportive group!

Picture This at Writers Unleashed

My Writing Jacket

Well it’s the middle of November and I’m sat at my desk in my writing jacket!! (A big fat purple wooly cardi) I refuse to put the heating on, although I have yielded and turned the lights on, it’s 2pm, dark and tippling it down. I’m going to need a cup of tea to warm my hands shortly too. Crazy weather, out of control bush fires one week, torrential downpours the next, will it inspire some crazy story ideas I wonder?


Let the festivities begin


Last night was the CBCA (Children’s Book Council of Australia) Christmas party, marking the beginning of the festive season. I am still in denial that this year is drawing to a close, there was so much I wanted to achieve and whilst I have come so close, I’ve not quite nailed it – yet, still 6 weeks to go!

The party, however, was a fantastic way to start the countdown to Christmas. We heard from the inspiring Alison Lester, Australia’s first Children’s Laureate. Alison spoke about the making of her book Sophie Scott Goes South, and how it was written using the experiences she had on a trip to the Antarctic. We got to see some truly amazing photos, and revel in her joy as she shared her experience with us.

Alison Lester CBCA xmas party

Check out her website: to read more and to see some of the beautiful artwork she has used for the book.

It was a fantastic evening, and I was lucky enough to sit on a table full of wonderful, enthusiastic and inspiring authors and teacher librarians. I have come away enthused as ever to write, write and write some more.

Thanks you to CBCA for such a fabulous evening!


PiBoIdMo Begins



This year I have decided to participate in the PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) challenge. It starts tomorrow, and the challenge is to create 30 picture book ideas in 30 days. The ideas need only be very basic ideas, but will hopefully provide a bank of ideas to work from over the next 12 months. I have several author friends who’ve taken part in this challenge before and rave about it. Each day there is a blog from an author or picture book professional to help inspire the creation of ideas, and there is a community of support, energy and encouragement. So here we go, 30 ideas, 30 days…….

Monsters Under the Bed

I had the pleasure of attending the Talking Writing event at the NSW Writers’ Centre last night, where Kate Forsyth, Nyssa Harkness and Matt Finch discussed monsters and villains in kid’s and YA fiction.

One of the most interesting parts of the discussion, for me anyway, was what makes monsters and villains suitable for children’s literature. Kate having written many a children’s story with villains in, suggested that a well written monster or villain in a children’s book sends a delicious shiver of fear through the child, whilst allowing them to still feel safe in their reading space. A child should be almost giggling with fear, not sweating with terror. And the difference between a child’s monster and an adults monster is defined by the depth of depravity. Get it wrong and that will be the last book you sell to that family, no parent wants to be woken in the night by a terrified child! True!

Another very interesting point was made around the level of sympathy you can manipulate readers to feel for the villains in stories. Kate talked about two types of villains, static villains, who remain bad all the way through the story, and villains that learn a lesson and change through the story. Readers can be encouraged to find understanding and even empathy for the latter, but will rarely have any sympathy for the former. Children have a strong inbuilt sense of justice, and like to see the bad guy punished and the good guy triumph. The story that stands the test of time is the story with a strong sense of justice and where true love triumphs.

There were many more interesting points made and all three presenters provided a fantastic insight into their area of expertise. Whilst I don’t write fantasy or dystopian fiction I came away from the evening feeling like I have learnt things I can incorporate into my writing.

A big thank you to Matt, Kate and Nyssa, and of course the NSW Writers’ Centre for hosting the evening.